Reclaiming Your Sense Of Play
Sit in any playground and watch children zoom through the air on the swings, dig for diamonds in the sandbox and fearlessly climb the Monkey Bars. Kids are stumbling, bouncing back and inventing complex worlds inhabited by imaginary friends. Children can’t be inauthentic. When we are little, nobody has to teach us how to have fun. It’s instinctual. For a while at least. Until… somewhere between learning to spell and ride a bike, a shift happens and self-consciousness sets in.
Pretty soon we become preoccupied with studying and first crushes. Instead of playtime, days are spent carefully prepping for the adult world ahead. While it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment our childish ways get left behind… ironically, when we stop playing, we lose far more than we realize. What if, instead of feeling uneasy in unfamiliar circumstances, we could boldly explore and if we fall, we’d jump right back up, laugh at ourselves and forge ahead. Imagine where we might go…
Lucky for us that playful spark never burns out. Although sometimes invisible to the eye, it always remains dimly lit. Here are some ways to ignite its flame.
None of the other steps are possible without first committing to this one. Sure, there are always reasons not to do something. Since we put up those obstacles, we also have the power to remove them. Consider this: throughout the day there will always be downtime. Maybe it’s social media, reading a magazine, texting a friend... Much like setting aside time for Yoga and meditation, once we realize the positive impact play has on wellbeing, the easier it becomes to integrate it into our daily lives. First it involves taking the leap, then a willingness to show up and put in the work. Or in this case, the play.
Leap Outside the Box
Often children color outside the lines and wind up improving the picture. In the spirit of creative thinking, try this mindfulness exercise. You’ll need: a coloring book and crayons. The more complex the designs the better. And find the largest box of crayons possible. Instead of following the rules, purposely color incorrectly. That’s right, the only way to do this wrong is to stay within the lines and use the appropriately shades. Use colors you wouldn’t ordinarily be drawn to. Experiment making unusual shapes… Take risks. Find new places to go. Notice how it feels. While it’s natural to want to achieve and do well, a flawless mindset leaves no room for exploration and can stifle growth.
Making art naturally engages a sense of play. For the purposes of this exercise, use finger paints. Resist the temptation to purchase fancy adult paints. Use the most primitive child’s set possible along with a large white poster board. Wear clothing that can get messy. Shut off all distractions. Dedicate at least an hour to exploring various colors, shapes and directions. There’s no way to do this wrong. Notice the tactile aspect… how does the paint feet against your skin? Engage fully and stay present. Make a habit of working on the same poster board until there’s no more space.
Ever watch a film, in awe of how actors slip on different skins? What is acting but a highly sophisticated game of make believe. When we activate our imaginations we give ourselves permission to be hopeful and nurture creative energy. For this exercise, draw the awareness to your breath and close your eyes. Take time to see yourself engaging in your wildest dreams. Nothing is off limits. Where would you do? What would you wear? Would you jump out of a plane, swim with dolphins or star in a ballet? As a guided daydream, spend at least 10-15 minutes actively fantasizing in living breathing color.
Dance Like Nobody’s Watching
Release the confines of insecurity in the safety of your own home. Wear comfortable clothing and go barefoot. Make sure there’s enough room to move freely without bumping into anything. Give your body a gentle shake, arms, legs, head, hips. Then crank up three songs and dance with abandon. Feel free to close your eyes if the mood strikes… Do this daily. In addition to getting some cardio, it releases inhibitions and limbers up the muscles; there’s even a study that shows dance may help improve cognitive function.
Unleash Your Goofy Side
Make silliness part of your mindfulness practice. Try laughter Yoga... read a funny book, childhood cartoon or watch a ridiculous video. Instead of being self-conscious and holding back, release judgement and become absorbed. Laugh fully, deeply and often. Besides being fun, laughter is jam-packed with wellness benefits, including the release of endorphins, lowering stress and blood pressure.
Choose a tale from childhood or an early memory of your own. Recall it in as great sensory detail as you’re able. If telling a written story, take every opportunity to embellish it. And record the story as you tell it. Visualize the images taking shape before your eyes. For part 2: listen back to the recording with eyes closed. This exercise serves a twofold intention. First, telling the story activates memory, focus and imagination. And lastly, hearing the story helps strengthen concentration and deepen listening skills.
Have a Beginners Mind
"Shoshin" is a Zen Buddhist word, which simplified means to have an open and willing mindset. Part of the beauty of this concept is, we needn’t to be doing anything special to experience Shoshin. It can apply to any moment…. By reconnecting with newness and a sense of wonder, we abolish the fear of the unknown. Old roadblocks vanish. In turn, life becomes an exploration. Allow your mind to wander… What have you always wanted to try but don’t know anything about? Enroll in a class or workshop, knowing you’ll be starting from square one. Ask for help. And allow others to show you the way. Only by being brave enough to risk vulnerability can we befriend curiosity and move forward into the big beautiful unknown.